Severn Stars make sensational swoop for Liana Leota from Manchester Thunder
"I am definitely not your normal netball player, I see things very differently, try to play the game steps ahead of others"
By Paul Prenderville
Last Updated: 11/09/19 4:01pm
Severn Stars have boosted their squad for the 2020 Vitality Superleague season with the signing of Liana Leota from champions Manchester Thunder.
With signing season underway across the Superleague, Stars have swooped to bring in one of the competition's most consistent performers.
Leota has enjoyed a stellar four years with Thunder, culminating in a 57-52 Grand Final victory over Wasps at the Copper Box in May, but the New Zealander has opted for a fresh challenge ahead of the new season.
The 34-year-old, also a Commonwealth silver medallist in 2014 and World Cup runner-up in 2011, heads to the West Country to join up with Stars who finished sixth in last season's competition.
It also represents a reunion with a familiar face in the shape of Stars' new head coach Melissa Bessell, who coached Leota as a teenager, as she has taken over the reins at the franchise following the departure of Sam Bird.
"I am just excited to get going. It's a new challenge with a new franchise for me and I can't wait," the former New Zealand international exclusively told Sky Sports.
"Melissa said to me that she has such a talented group of young players but was keen to have someone with experience and knowledge amongst them on court. For me, it was a case of whether I wanted to take on that challenge.
"To be able to make a difference to the younger players was something new for me. With Thunder we had such a great group of senior players, anyone could come in and out, but now it's up to me to try and make a difference with these young ones."
Bessell is something of a mentor for Leota, who is keen to make the move into coaching herself, and having worked with the Pathway teams in Manchester she will continue that with a view to her post-netball career.
"Once the whistle goes a coach can't do anything, so [I want] to be the player on the court that can hopefully provide the knowledge, the experience and the calmness that Melissa can't until the break.
"Melissa was a coach for me as a teenager in New Zealand when I was growing up and I like her approach - she tells it how it is - and with us both on this side of the world we have always been sounding boards for each other.
"Once she got the Stars job with this group of girls that is what got things going and, for me, I am now in that transitional period where I am asking if I want to coach.
"But, for now, I still have a desire to play and to win and compete, but I am starting to look ahead to whether I want to be a coach - I love coaching and I have a passion for it, but will I be any good?"
Bessell is delighted to have a player of Leota's status on board as the Stars look to make the leap to being a top-four contender.
She said: "This has to be one of the best signings in the Vitality Superleague. Liana is not only a world-class athlete, but an amazing leader with an enormous amount of experience and one of the most down-to-earth, beautiful people in the game today.
"It is so exciting to have her playing for the Severn Stars this season. She is one of the most dynamic players, with an innate knowledge of the game. Her passion and flair is simply magic. I am so pleased to be working with her in my first season and am excited for the other athletes to work alongside her."
It brings to an end a fantastic spell in Manchester for Leota, who moved to the Superleague in 2011 not long after being part of the Silver Ferns squad that won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
She has nothing but fond memories of her time with the franchise, having moved from New Zealand to play her netball in the UK alongside her husband Johnny who also moved to play rugby union for Sale Sharks.
"It was really, really hard as I have had such a blast in Manchester. We've had some amazing achievements, great memories. and I am so happy to be able to leave as a Superleague champion."
Sky Sports is your home of netball and it returns to your screens shortly, starting with theFast5 British Championships on Saturday October 12, while the Roses return to action under new coach Jess Thirlby when they tour South Africa in November.